Before we get started with this week's conversation, a correction.
Last week, I incorrectly identified the walk-in theater of my youth in Geneva, Alabama. It was the Avon. And thanks to the friends from down home who caught my error and sent corrections. Now, on with the show.
When I was just a lad, my mother was very serious about the importance of having a strong, wide-ranging vocabulary. She subscribed to Reader's Digest and made sure that I completed the monthly feature "30 Days To A More Powerful Vocabulary." She would also find vocabulary-building books from the public library in Geneva.
In today's conversation, let's take a look at some of the most mispronounced, misspelled and misused words in the English language. Here goes.
It's "ARC-tic" rather than the misspelled and mispronounced version, "artic" which leaves out the first "c."
I hear people misuse this word quite often: He is a talented "ATH-uh-lete" (three syllables). Use the correct ATH-lete" and save a syllable. Also, it's "ATH-let-ic" (3 syllables) ... not the 4-syllable misspelled and mispronounced "ATH-e-let-ic."
I'll be honest with you. I'm guilty of mispronouncing this next example. The correct pronunciation of the drug category is "barb-i-TUR-ate." I have always left out the second "r." Shame on me.
Did you know the correct way to describe a restless horse's chewing part of this headgear is "champing" at the bit, not "chomping" at the bit? \Give yourself a point if you knew this one.
A woman called me at WSFA-TV to tell me I was mispronouncing the islands known as the Caribbean. I was saying ker-i-BEE-uhn, as do most islanders who live there. She informed me that it was ke-RIB-e-uhn named after the Carib Indians. This one is too close to call. I like the way most of the natives say it ... ker-i-BEE-uhn. I figure if it's good enough for the Disney's films, it's good enough for me.
I remember how my mother corrected me on my pronunciation of "dip-THEE-ree-uh." She told me the "ph" was pronounced as though it were an "f." Frankly, I don't hear many people (if any) say "dif-THEE-ree-uh." I'm a "dip" kind of guy. Sorry, mom.
In this political world, you say "e-lec-TOR-al." Don't add an "i" to the final syllable. Pretty straight forward when speaking political-ese.
I was watching TV the other night when I heard one of my least-favorite mispronunciations. The fellow speaking was talking about showing a new employee the ropes of his new job. He said "I will orientate you to our operation." TSK-TSK. There's no need for adding the "ate" on the end of the perfectly good word like "orient."
The pronunciation and spelling of "persnickety" caught me totally off guard. I read that the word "pernickety" is technically correct ... rather than the commonly spelled and pronounced word "persnickety." Apparently, the addition of the "s" didn't change the original meaning of the word. You can thank folks here in the good ole U.S. for changing the spelling and pronunciation. Personally, I like the U.S. pronunciation. I'm not persnickety at all.
I remember seeing this next word as a clue category on the TV game show. The category was potent potables. "Potable" is not pronounced "pott-able" as it looks. It's "PO-tuh-bl" (long "o"). Alex, I'll take Potent Potables for $2,000.
Our next candidate for most widely mispronounced word is "data."
I have found many etymologists (word-o-holics) disagree on whether it's "day-ta" or "dat-ta."
Personally, I like "day-ta." I realized early on in my journalism career that I had to take sides in this ongoing debate. So I listened closely to the network news people and conferred with several dictionaries and smart people who make their living pronouncing words correctly. I believe the use of "day-ta" just sounds better. Therefore, it's set in the concrete of my mind as such ... and I'm sticking with it.
"Sneaked or snucked" might fit nicely into the category of "snooty" versus "casual" conversation. In writing for a newscast, I can't imagine the circumstance where I would write the word "snuck" — unless I were quoting a person who was a newsmaker. But I can think that during casual conversation "snuck" is OK to use when it's just the family and close friends.
There are a number of words that are simply hard to spell correctly. Here are a few of my favorites:
• Accommodate — Just remember two c's and two m's to spell it correctly
• Receive — Just when you thought all those teachers were right all the time, an exception to the old rule "i before e except after c" can have exceptions.
• Occurred — remember, to spell it correct use two c's and two r's
• Cemetery — I think this was the most frequently misspelled word I saw in editing news copy. Remember, there are no a's in cemetery and you should have no problems.
• Separate — I learned how to spell this word by misspelling it on a large poster I made in seventh grade science class. I had to completely rewrite and redraw the poster ... but by golly I've never forgotten how to spell "separate."
I hope this has been helpful in your writing and speaking ... but hey, you've always got spell check to use on virtually all word processing programs.
Here's to better spelling ... and to the great memories made at Geneva's Avon theater. I'll never forget its name, either.